"I am very pleased with the video's popularity," Mr. Harding said in an e-mail. "I spent over a year making it, so I was certainly hoping it would be well-received, but yes, the level of popularity it's reached in the last two weeks has definitely come as a surprise."
The current video, posted about a month ago, is Mr. Harding's second collaboration with Stride. Mr. Harding first garnered a small internet following several years ago for a traveling rendition of what Midwesterners might call a "farmer's jig" (pumping elbows, high knees and insistent bouncing). The brand's promotion agency, GoldNFish, first spotted Mr. Harding in 2005 "when we were looking for a fun way to get the word out about Stride gum," said Emily Liu, senior brand manager for Stride.
"As huge fans of Matt, we wanted to see if he would take a long trip around the world again," she said. "So we picked up the phone and asked Matt if he would be interested ... and the rest is history."
The result was a 2006 video that dovetailed with the brand's launch. Ms. Liu said Stride asked Mr. Harding where he wanted to go, and paid for his travel. The particulars of the sponsorship are unclear, but according to Mr. Harding's website, he hasn't "had a real job since Stride called him up."
Invitations pour in
And now, three years later, the collaboration is still going strong. For the effort launched last month, Mr. Harding said he approached Stride with the idea of getting more people involved in video dances. It didn't hurt that his inbox was clogged with invitations from around the world.
"We've received great feedback from our consumers -- they are thrilled that we've supported Matt," Ms. Liu said. "So when Matt approached us about his idea of doing a third trip around the world, this time inviting others to dance with him, we were excited to be able to support him again."
Stride supports the sponsorship by way of a "Dancing Matt" microsite attached to the brand's main page. The site praises Mr. Harding for quitting his job to dance around the world.
Mr. Harding stresses that Stride has given him "total creative control" to make the dance videos he wanted to make. A small Stride logo appears intermittently in the 2006 video and the new version ends with a Stride credit. The star never wears Stride gear and never even appears to be chewing gum.
Still, with 4.8 million views and counting, a few plane tickets seem a small price to pay. As far as bringing Mr. Harding back for more dancing, Ms. Liu said, "Anything is possible."
While Stride's Harding endeavor can best be described as marketing on a shoestring, the Stride brand promised retailers $150 million in support over its first three years, beginning in 2006.
Stride is currently the fifth-best-selling brand in the sugarless gum category, according to Information Resources Inc. But with $42 million in 2008 sales at supermarkets, drugstores and mass outlets (excluding Wal-Mart, club stores and gas stations -- all places in which a lot of gum is sold) through June 15, the brand still lags significantly behind sugar-free-market leader Orbit with $103 million in sales over the same six-month period.
Coming up fast
The fledgling brand has come up from sixth place in the category in 2007, when it tallied sales of $65 million, according to IRI. Stride didn't register on the organization's 2006 list of 20 top-selling brands.
But traditional ad spending appears to be slowing. According to TNS Media Intelligence, parent Cadbury Adams spent $7 million in measured media in the first three months of the year, compared with $9 million during January through March 2007. The company spent $29 million advertising Stride sugarless gum in 2007, compared with $17 million in 2006.